Directed and written by heavyweight talents David Fincher (Fight Club) and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), The Social Network opens in a busy bar, Mark Zuckerberg, soon-to be co-founder of Facebook, asks his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara),
“How do you distinguish yourself?”
He’s desperate to join one of the universities exclusive clubs and in a fast talking conversation – with him mostly doing the talking, it is clear that he can’t socialise, dipping in and out of conversation leaving Erica adrift as he focuses on himself. Realising that Mark is self-obsessed, Erica admits, just before she dumps him,
“Dating you is like dating a stairmaster – it’s exhausting”
It’s a line typical of Sorkin’s wit but the opening scene and the question, “How do you distinguish yourself?” set the questions and tone for the movie.
The Social Network charts the development and early rise of Facebook through two different lawsuits brought against Mark Zuckerberg by early business partners, the Winklevoss twins, and Facebook co-founder and former best friend Eduardo Saverin.
In a university as prestigious as Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg is one of those students that would never fit into one of the university clubs because he lacks the connections of the Winklevoss twins.
The clubs that he longs to get into are presented like some fever dream – exclusive societies involving the privileged throwing parties with the sexiest girls in town attending.
Sharp directing by David Fincher shows just what Zuckerberg thinks he is missing, what he desires and ultimately battles against. The privileged East Coast elite who get all of the perks.
The bitterness of being dumped and not being part of a club is palpable and sets-up a scene where we see drunken blogging and the misogynistic precursor to Facebook, Face Smash. It acts as a neat way of showing the audience the genius programming skills of Zuckerberg, the roots of Facebook and the social media landscape of the time.
It speaks volumes about the people behind the site – casual genius unconcerned about what people think and to hell with privacy and respect! This is new media. Run with it or get run over!
Fincher’s directing is on point from the get go. Which is a relief because there were so many scenes involving programming and hacking, all of which were exciting, made more so by the pulsing electronic soundtrack by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and sharp editing which accumulated scenes in a snowballing effect that shows the power of new media.
The other winner is Aaron Sorkin’s writing. Able to take a book and create a compelling script with believable characters casually littering lines like:
“You better lawyer up, asshole, because I’m not coming back for the 30%. I’m coming back for everything!”
The structure and, at points, dialogue replicate the feel of using a search engine. Flashbacks are like page links that have been accessed or Mark will latch onto something said 10 seconds ago and like a Google search, pull out a response. All of this accumulates like blows in a boxing match and we are watching the points accumulate.
Acting wise, everybody rises to the challenge. Jesse Eisenberg creates an introverted Mark Zuckerberg, one who doesn’t want to be a bad guy but he can’t stop his ego. Watching his friendship with Eduardo Saverin, as played by Andrew Garfield, is thrilling as the tawdry details emerge.
In a brilliant turn, Justin Timberlake as the smooth-talking, ambitious Napster co-founder Sean Parker comes across like some modern day Mephistopheles.
Armie Hammer is also magnificent, playing both of the Winklevoss twins (thanks to digital face-switching techniques similar to those seen in Fincher’s previous film, Benjamin Button).
They are everything that Mark isn’t – handsome, commanding and rich. However, they are steam-rollered by Zuckerberg’s intelligence which is truly frightening.
Seeing the fallout from these lawsuits is fascinating. The end result is a film that is far more interesting and entertaining than you might think a film based on Facebook could possibly be and, do you know what? This is probably one of the best films this year.